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5 Words That Can Doom Your Career

Nov 10, 2014

“To whom it may concern” — you should never use this bland business-letter greeting in your cover letter.

Like most default modes, “To whom it may concern” is effortless — in other words, lazy. And when you’re job-hunting, that’s not the first impression you want to give. It conveys the message that you couldn't — or couldn't be bothered to — figure out the name of the hiring manager who's going to read it.

“Hiring and the job search have changed dramatically with the advent of new technologies,” says Joe Essenfeld, founder and CEO of recruiting software company Jibe. “It would send a bad message if a job seeker were unable to use simple search tools and social networks to personalize their outreach.”

“It demonstrates that you took initiative and did your homework before deciding to apply to this position,” says Amanda Augustine, job search expert at mobile career network TheLadders.

This probably is going to mean some extra legwork on your part. “Sometimes it is very difficult, if not impossible, to track down those names,” says Art Glover, an expert panelist with the Society for Human Resource Management. But it usually can be done, he adds. “A good web search and a bit of networking and sleuthing will often give you the information,” he says.

Here’s where to look.

Start with the company. You might be able to figure out who you need to reach right from the careers section of the company’s website, Augustine says. “Don't forget to check out… their career-specific social media accounts and their page on Glassdoor,” she adds.

Try social networks. LinkedIn is a no brainer, but in some cases, you might need to dig a little deeper. “Run an advanced search on your professional social networks and see if you know anyone who currently works or previously worked at your target organization,” Augustine suggests. This person might be able to tell you who the hiring manager is, or maybe pass your application along directly.

Check online job postings. “On some job sites such as TheLadders, the recruiter who posted the job may associate the posting with their account or include their contact information in the body of the job description,” Augustine says.

Pick up the phone. If all else fails? “Go old-school and call the company to find out,” Essenfeld says. Call the main phone line or human resources department. “Putting in a little effort can go a long way," he says.

Get the HR director’s name. If you can’t track down the hiring manager’s name, you can at least direct your letter to the company’s HR head.

Read next: 27 Pre-Written Templates for Your Toughest Work Emails

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